Forestville Teachers Continue to Be Disrespected and Devalued After Strike Vote and Fact-Finding Hearing

By Erik Olson Fernández

On Monday, June 24th, Forestville teachers made their case at a Fact-Finding hearing, the last step in the legal process before a strike, while the District continued its questionable practice of hiring attorneys and outside consultants to find ways to not give the sixteen teachers in the district respect and a living wage. Attached is our Fact-Finding presentation which clearly shows that:

The Forestville Union School District’s presentation, made by hired consultant John Gray, the state-wide President of School Services of California, did not adequately respond to any of these key issues. After the Fact-Finding hearing itself, mediation attempts by the neutral fact-finder failed as the District’s proposals continued to be disrespectful toward the teachers.

The District’s bargaining team clearly is not listening. Thus, we, the teachers, strongly urge the District to consider replacing the current board members on the District bargaining team with other board members.

The current board members, Josh Nultemeier and Jean Bullard on the bargaining team, appear to have simply been a rubber stamp for administration and outgoing Superintendent Phyllis Parisi who is not well respected by the teachers and the community.

Our hope is that we can avoid a strike in the new school year, with new, better informed board members and a new Superintendent. Several other Sonoma County school districts, including districts neighboring Forestville like Oak Grove, Sebastopol, Gravenstein along with the Sonoma County Office of Education, have already demonstrated this year that a multi-year agreement that addresses these critical teacher concerns is possible. In order to recruit and retain the best educators for our students these kinds of agreement are necessary.

According to the California Department of Education’s 2017-2018 Salary Report based on California districts’ J-90 forms, the statewide average teacher pay was $80,680. At Forestville, the average wage for teachers was $60,632, which is more than 33% below the statewide average despite Sonoma County being recognized as one of the least affordable counties in the state for educators.

As third grade teacher and FTA Bargaining Co-chair Anne Fox said, “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”

Only Kashia, Horicon, and Guerneville have lower average teacher salaries in the county of 39 school districts listed in the CDE salary report at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/fd/cs/documents/j90summary1718.pdf (pages 64-66). Teachers must be a priority in the budget and in negotiations as having financially overwhelmed teachers in our classrooms helps no one, especially our students.

Prior to declaring impasse, the District proposed a zero percent salary increase to teachers. To add insult to injury, this zero percent proposal was delivered by an outside, contracted attorney (without the Superintendent) who has been involved for more than a year in these negotiations.

This is significant as there are only 16 teachers and a 1% increase would equate to $10,382 based on 2017-18 numbers from the district. Yet, the district finished 2017-18 with $1,829,214 (43.63%) in Total Unrestricted Ending Balance Funds (Fund 01) and budgeted even more for 2018-19 at $1,953,362 (47.35%).

The required state minimum reserve is 5% and the board has a policy to be at 15%. The District is violating its own policy by holding on to 43.63% in Total Unrestricted monies. Salaries for the entire teaching staff in 2017-18 only amounted to $1,038,282, about half of what was budgeted in Total Unrestricted Ending Balance (Fund 01) for 2018-19.

In the enclosed Fact-Finding presentation, you will see that the percentage of the budget going to Certificated Bargaining Unit Salaries has been declining every year for the last five years from 37.66% in 2013-14 to 24.76% in 2017-18.

This is despite the fact that Total Revenues have been increasing from $3,773,740 in 2013-14 to $4,672,110 in 2017-18 and Total Unrestricted Ending Balance in Fund 01 has increase from $713,524 (19.47%) in 2013-14 to $1,829,214 (43.63%) in 2017-18.

Another area of concern is the increasing of Services & Other Operating Expenses, which includes attorney and consultant fees, over the last five years without question from the district. This budget category has increased from 13% ($476,379) of the budget in 2013-14 to 21.63% ($907,075) in 2017-18.

This budget category is now close to what is being spent on the entire teaching staff salaries ($1,038,282 or 24.76%). Teachers are clearly not a priority when you look at the Unaudited Actual financial report filed by the district with the state and the county office of education in September 2018.

After the impasse mediation, the District continued to disrespect and devalue the teachers by sending a last, best, and final offer that includes no on-schedule increases for this year despite the year being almost over.

The District’s latest proposal closes the contract until 2021 on health benefits when the District’s contribution is significantly below the statewide average.

The proposal would also require teachers to work two more days in the next two years in order to get a raise that is below this year’s Consumer Price Index for the Bay Area of 4.5%.

Paradoxically, on Feb. 13, 2019, the West County Transportation Agency board, which is made up of superintendents from Sonoma County school districts and includes the Forestville superintendent Phyllis Parisi, voted unanimously to approve a “Rate Increase on Agency Services for Fiscal Year 19-20” of 4.5% based on the Consumer Price Index for the Bay Area.

It is within this contradictory context, that teachers in Forestville have reached their limit this year and are demanding to be respected, recognized and protected in the District’s budget and in negotiations. Kindergarten teacher and FTA bargaining team member Talia Kilburn has already publicly stated what will happen if the district does not respect, recognize, and respond to the teachers cost of living crisis by saying, “If our negotiations don’t work out, then we strike.”

Below are statements made at the Fact-Finding hearing by teachers and bargaining team members Talia Kilburnand Ryan Strauss.

Hi, my name is Talia Kilburn and I have been teaching for 7 years.

I have spent the last four years teaching kindergarten at Forestville School. In 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer several months into my first year at Forestville School. I was 34 years old at the time.

The only health plan that Forestville School District entirely pays for has a very high deductible and a very high out of pocket maximum. Thankfully, I chose a different plan when I was hired.

However, what that means is that I pay several hundred dollars every month that goes toward my health insurance. On top of that, my out of pocket max is close to $2,000 a year.

Needless to say, while I was fighting cancer, I had to pay a couple hundred dollars every month for health insurance plus the out of pocket max both in 2016 and 2017. In my case, fighting cancer meant chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.

Because I chose to continue teaching while receiving chemotherapy treatment, I did not qualify for the district’s version of disability. Thus, after I used all of my sick days, I had to pay for my own substitute every time I was absent due to chemotherapy side effects.

You may think, oh well paying for a substitute isn’t that much, but at Forestville School substitutes make close to as much per day as newer teachers. Not because substitutes make a lot, but because teachers make so little.

At the time, the district did not have anything in place that allowed other teachers to donate sick days to me.

If I had not been able to live with my parents while receiving cancer treatment, I am not sure what I would have done.

Because my monthly income was already barely enough to get by, I could not have afforded rent along with medical insurance, medical bills, and substitute pay.

I do not make enough money to have a savings. Forestville School District does not pay its teachers enough to live, let alone pay for something unexpected happening, like cancer at 34 years old.

However, those things do happen and Forestville School District does not monetarily equip its teachers to be able to financially survive.

I am happy to say that despite all of this and because of help from family and friends, I am here today as a breast cancer survivor.

I hope Forestville School District will start to make better decisions for the health and financial well-being of their teachers, so that we can pay for things that we can predict like rent, as well as things that we cannot possible for see.

Thank you for your time.

Hello, my name is Ryan Strauss and I have taught at Forestville School for four years.

I was born and raised in the town of Forestville and, for that, I feel extremely fortunate. I graduated from 8th grade at Forestville school in 1999, the last class of the millenium.

Most of the formative experiences of my youth centered around Forestville School. From playing basketball and flag football with my fellow vikings, to participating in our “Club Live” student government, putting on school dances, and inspiring a never ending thirst for knowledge, Forestville School has been one of the greatest influences on who I have become. To this day, my only dance moves are the ones I learned in Mr. Cary’s 6th grade class when we studied 1950’s dancing.

As a young man, growing up in Forestville, the school was a central fixture in our community because of all the activities, programs and events. I took Aikido martial arts lessons and participated in Mr. Tobes’ chess club because there was such a variety of extra curricular programs our school supported.

I participated in a few and attended many of our annual talent shows. We helped restore the creek and ploughed the earth for the school garden when I was in junior high.

My first job, when I was 13, was working at the schools After School Activities Program. I worked there for 6 years and I saw my mother develop that program as its director for 20 years.

These experiences and inspirations are what drove me to become a teacher. It's always been a dream of mine to be a teacher at Forestville School, now it’s my purpose. I now live in my hometown and have my dream job teaching at the school that serves the community I grew up in that means so much to me.

I came into teaching with a starry-eyed naivety that is probably quite common among new teachers. I was under the impression that everyone would be single-mindedly focused on doing whatever is necessary to give the kids the best education possible.

I thought it would be based on a simple concept; schools exist to educate children and teachers are the main delivery mechanism of that education. I assumed schools were about students and teachers that teach them.

It becomes a little disheartening when one sees that ideal shattered in reality. It’s disappointing to see how the education of students is not always the highest priority, as indicated by how our schools resources are allocated.

Our school creates a budget that allocates resources to many things that have nothing to do with or have a very tenuous connection to any aspect of a students education. Yet they budget absolutely nothing for any possibility of an increase in wages for teachers, despite the rising cost of living, especially in this community.

So when it comes time to negotiate they get to say they have no money in the budget because they have created this appearance. Sure they can afford to spend many thousands of dollars fighting the teachers who directly educate the students but no money to pay them.

Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to have used all those thousands of dollars paid to fight against the teachers to actually negotiate with and work something out to avoid putting everyone in our school community through this? It sure does to me.

We, as teachers, pay about $100 every single month to be represented in this process. It is not right that tax payers, the community including myself, are funding this ineffective use of public resources.

The district spends less and less on the teachers each year and is spending a significant amount of money fighting the teachers in the hopes they don’t have to spend money paying the teachers.

That seems a little counterproductive, don’t you think?

The worst example of this was when the district superintendent and CBO did not show up to negotiations but instead paid an attorney to come and offer us a zero percent wage increase to 16 teachers. How would you receive this message if you were in our shoes?

Teachers are the conduit through which education flows directly to our students. Our school needs to prioritize its teachers and invest in the people who are closest to the students.

This is not happening now and that's why we are all here.

How about we all work together to do what’s best for our students and put our resources in the people and programs that have the most direct connection to the education of our students and the community.

This is how it was when I was a student at Forestville and now I am fighting with my fellow teachers to ensure that it becomes that way again.

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